Renowned chef and restaurateur Mark Hix permanently relocated to Dorset at the start of the pandemic, coming home after spending his adult life in London – though weekends were always for his Charmouth home. He had his first head chef position at the age of 22, and has worked at both The Ivy and Le Caprice (becoming Caprice’s Chef Director in 1999). In 2008 Mark opened his first restaurant, the Hix Oyster and Chop House near Smithfield market.
He was awarded an MBE in 2017, and, along with numerous TV appearances, he writes weekly recipe pages for the Daily Telegraph and has his own show on Lyme Bay Radio.
The Hix story
In 2020, during the first stages of the pandemic, the Hix Restaurants (by then operating across four sites in London – HIX Oyster and Chop House in Farringdon, HIX Soho & Mark’s Bar, Tramshed in Shoreditch, and Hixter Bankside, as well as two sites in Lyme Regis, HIX Oyster and Fish House and HIX Townhouse) went into administration. Mark publicly noted that “this was a Board decision, and I have to point out, done without my support.”
Mark retreated to his house in Dorset “to survive lockdown and tend to the garden”.
Two months later, Mark – a self-confessed eBay addict – started the search for a food truck.
“It’s moveable, I could serve what I wanted and the overheads would be minimal”. A black already-converted American Chevrolet ambulance popped up – and he won the bidding. “My silly low offer was accepted within 24 hours”.
He collected it in south London and the thinking time on the four-hour drive home was the start of a new beginning.
The Hix Truck
Arising from his love of fishing, Mark wanted to support the local fishermen while all the restaurants, shops and hotels were closed.
He applied for a licence to buy and sell fish, got a pitch at Felicity’s Farm Shop in Morcombelake and started selling marine reserve fish and shellfish.
“I called it Hix Oyster and Fish Truck, as close as I could to the fish restaurant I had lost. The first week trading on the truck I took my ex-head chef from the Fish House, telling him “There are no wages, we’ll just split the profits,”. At the end of the week we each went home with 140 quid in our pockets. It’s what I used to earn when I was 19, but it was better than nothing.”
In July 2020, Mark rescued his Oyster and Fish House from the administrators, and was hired as the director of food and drink and art curator for 1 Lombard Street’s reopening in London.
“Maybe I needed the opportunity to return to basics: smoking salmon in my back garden, supporting honest local fishermen and feeding takeaway sliders to the local community from my truck.”
In December 2020 Mark purchased The Fox Inn at Corscombe, but just 18 months later, in the very week I interviewed him, Mark announced the closure of the pub: “I don’t need to tell anyone how hard it has been for the industry since Covid hit, and the challenges simply continue with rising costs and a difficulty to recruit like I have never known in my whole career.
“And so, with a heavy heart, it is time to permanently close the doors of The Fox Inn.”
1. What’s your relationship with the Blackmore Vale (the North Dorset area, not us!)?
I’m a West Dorset boy, born and bred in West Bay. I pass through the north of the county all the time, obviously, but home is here in Charmouth
2. What was the last film you watched?
To be honest I’m not a big film person. Recently I’ve got into Breaking Bad (yes, I know, I’m so late I’m probably the last person to watch it!), and now I’m on to Better Call Saul. I like to watch some before I fall asleep (and usually have to rewind to pick up again the following day).
3. Favourite crisps flavour?
Cheese & onion! Though I do have a serious fondness for Frazzles. And Squares. The salt and vinegar ones that make your lips pucker up.
4. And the best biscuit for dunking?
A Hobnob! With or without chocolate, I’m easy. I found some mini ones recently, which are also really good.
5. What was the last song you sang out loud in your car?
I never sing in the car!
6. Your favourite quote? Movie, book or inspirational? We won’t judge, but would like to know why.
“Work hard, play hard”
I’m not sure who said it, but it’s how I live.
(a little online research shows the phrase seems to have originated in 1827 and can be attributed to Canadian educator William Newnham from his essay ‘The principles of physical, intellectual, moral, and religious education, Volume Two’.
Newnham wrote that: “Whatever is done, it should be habitually done with earnestness; in every pursuit, exertion should be employed; work hard and play hard.”)
7. It’s Friday night – you have the house to yourself, and no work is allowed. What are you going to do?
I’m not actually one for staying in. So if the weather’s good I’d be off out fishing. If I’m at home then I would probably catch up on some gardening – it’s all a bit neglected out there at the moment.
8. What is your comfort meal?
A bowl of pasta. I usually have venison from a friend once a month or so, and I make the trimmings into a ragu. I freeze it in portions, and then it defrosts in the time it takes the pasta to cook. Easy.
9. What are your top three most-visited, favourite websites (excluding social media and BBC News!)?
Ebay – for random stuff I don’t need.
Amazon – for random stuff I probably don’t need.
Facebook Marketplace – brilliant for even more random stuff … It’s a bit of a pattern, isn’t it?
10. What shop can you never pass by?
(in an interview filled with thoughtful pauses and considered responses, this was an unexpectedly swift, unhesitating and definitive answer! – Ed)
11. What would you like to tell 15-year-old you?
“Work hard, don’t flit, and do some work experience in what you choose”
Sticking to one thing would have made life easier. I was working from the age of 11 – not uncommon then but not something you see nowadays, really, and there’s no replacement for a decent work ethic being instilled.
12. What’s your secret superpower?
Fishing! I caught a sea bass this morning. It’s my way of relaxing, I love it.
13. Cats or dogs?
Neither. I have had cats, but to be honest I just don’t really… care that much? We don’t fit.
14. What’s your most annoying trait?
I’m super tidy. Potentially obsessively so. Everything has a place and it must be in it. The sink must be empty. But I don’t personally think that it’s annoying at all!
15. If you had to be shipwrecked on a desert island, but all your human needs – such as food and water – were taken care of, what two items would you want to have with you?
A fishing rod and my Cobb Grill. (not a super-expensive chef kit, the grill is currently just £99 at GoOutdoors! – Ed)
16. Chip shop chips or home-baked cake?
Home-baked cake – you can never rely on chip shop chips. Actually – and I know it’s a slight stretch of the question – my top choice would be my chilli cheese cornbread. Delicious, and also makes a brilliant gift. Can I cheat with that as my cake?
17. What was the last gift you gave someone?
I bought a piano for my daughter Isla. She’s a keen pianist, so I get a beautiful piece of furniture, and she has a piano whenever she comes to stay.
18. What would you like to be remembered for?
What I’ve achieved in hospitality – but also my failures. You learn so much from failing.
19. Your perfect breakfast?
Corned beef hash.
Or maybe brik (pronounced ‘breek’), a Tunisian dish of eggs in fried filo pastry.
I’m happy with either, served with a large pot of coffee, thanks!